“My head feels like a ton of bricks. I can’t breathe. I am so congested”. We have all felt this way one time or another. These symptoms are classic indicators of the common cold, but they are also telltale signs of allergies and sinus infections. Cold or allergies or sinus infection? With three different conditions all leading to the same symptoms, it is hard for the average American to self diagnose themselves. Too often we guess incorrectly causing us to mistreat the source of our condition. What are the differences between the common cold, allergies and sinuses?
The common cold is a viral infection. It attacks the body bringing about a fever, headache, congestion of the nasal passages and a sore throat. The average cold lasts for about one week. Colds are differentiated from allergy and sinus infections by the length of time the symptoms last. If the symptoms persist past a week, which is the average length cycle for the cold virus to work its way out of the body, than it is most likely an allergy or sinus infection.
The harder diagnosis is differentiating between an allergy and a sinus infection. Allergy and sinus infections both inflame the nasal passageway but the cause of the inflammation is different. When an allergy victim breaths in a foreign allergen, the body sends histamine to the nasal passageway to attack the allergen. The histamine is what causes the nasal airways to become inflamed and produce extra mucus. The clogged nasal passage creates the congestion experienced by over 40 million Americans.
Sinus infections affect the nose in another manner. Most sinus infections are caused when the nasal passage becomes inflamed by a bacteria infection. The blocked passage prevents the mucus from traveling through. The trapped mucus builds up behind the nasal passage inside the sinus cavities located directly behind the nasal passage, in the forehead, and near the ears. As more mucus is produced the more pressure builds up behind, causing sinus sufferers to experience migraines, congestion and heavy heads.
Diagnosing an allergy from a sinus infection can be done with a nasal smear test administered by a doctor. The nasal smear test examines the blood cells. A smear that contains many white blood cells referred to as neutrophilis indicates a sinus bacterial infection. If there are few neutrophilis cells present it is a viral infection. Common colds are a type of viral infection. If eosinophilis cells (another type of white blood cell) are present than this indicates an allergy.
While the nasal smear test is the most accurate way to diagnose the source of the symptoms there is still a way to differentiate between the two. Allergy suffers tend to experience watery eyes along with the nasal congestion. Sinus infections are not known to cause watery eyes. If a person is experiencing watery eyes then this is a good indicator that the cause is allergy related and not sinus. One last way to effectively diagnose between an allergy and sinus infection is to look at past patient medical history. If there is a pattern of allergies, than it is likely to be another allergy infection whereas if the medical history reveals past sinus infections than it is likely to be sinus related.